Showing 311 - 320 of 436 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cancer"

The Cancer Match

Dickey, James

Last Updated: Mar-05-2002
Annotated by:
Chen, Irene
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrator is a patient with advanced cancer who has come home from the hospital after being told that "medicine has no hope." Yet, for one night, he strives to overcome his cancer with drink, his "Basic Life Force," and hope.

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What the Doctor Said

Carver, Raymond

Last Updated: Mar-05-2002
Annotated by:
Terry, James

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry — Secondary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrator recounts the interview with his physician during which he learned the bad news about his lung cancer--although the word "cancer" is never mentioned. But the interview is marked throughout by signs of imperfect communication. At several points, the physician's grave remarks are matched by diffident, sometimes humorous responses.

For example, when asked if he is a religious man or a communer with nature, the narrator responds "I said not yet but I intend to start today." The culminating account of miscommunication is near the end: "he said something else / I didn't catch and not knowing what else to do / and not wanting him to have to repeat it / and me to have to fully digest it / I just looked at him." The final line clinches the oddly blurred nature of the whole exchange: "I may even have thanked him habit being so strong."

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Before I Say Goodbye

Picardie, Ruth

Last Updated: Feb-19-2002
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Ruth Picardie was a journalist working in London. Shortly after her marriage in 1994 to Matt Seaton, also a journalist, she found a breast lump. After testing, she was told it was benign. Two years later, and a year after giving birth to twins, the lump enlarged and this time she was diagnosed with advanced, inoperable breast cancer. She rapidly developed bone, liver, and brain metastases and died in September 1997, aged 33.

This book consists of a selection of Picardie's e-mail correspondence during the last year of her life, the columns she wrote for the Observer newspaper (a series about dying she called "Before I say goodbye"), readers' letters responding to her column, and an introduction and epilogue by her husband. While not, then, strictly a memoir, this collection of texts constitutes an intimate view of a witty, angry young woman undergoing an intolerable illness.

The expected elements are there: diagnosis, chemotherapy, radiation, hope, the loss of hope. What is unexpected is the way these are presented, and the vividness with which we share the prospect of saying good bye to her children, her gradual detachment from her husband, and, as the brain metastases spread, the loss of coherence and the appalling silencing of her powerful voice.

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The Physician in Literature

Cousins, N., ed.

Last Updated: Feb-19-2002
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)

Summary:

The Physician in Literature is an anthology edited and introduced by Norman Cousins that aims to illustrate the multiple ways in which doctors are portrayed in world literature. Literary selections are organized into 12 categories including Research and Serendipity, The Role of the Physician, Gods and Demons, Quacks and Clowns, Clinical Descriptions in Literature, Doctors and Students, The Practice, Women and Healing, Madness, Dying, The Patient, and An Enduring Tradition.

Some of the notable authors represented in this collection include Leo Tolstoy, Herman Melville, Albert Camus, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Anton P. Chekhov, Orwell, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevski, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Mann, Gustave Flaubert, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A healthy dose of William Carlos Williams makes for some of the most enjoyable reading ("The Use of Force" and excerpts from his Autobiography).

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

This book contains 17 short stories, all set in an in-patient hospice, all exploring the reactions of patients and their caregivers--both family members and professionals--to the last stages of terminal illness. A woman struggles to find the strength to write last letters to her loved ones, nurses are surprised when a seemingly unconscious patient suddenly joins in their conversation; the hospice chaplain becomes a patient; and so on. In the title story, a dying woman's daughter finally manages to answer honestly when her mother asks when death will come: "Soon."

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

Spencer Nadler, a surgical pathologist for over 25 years in southern California, offers 8 essays, as well as an introduction, epilogue and 9 full color histopathology plates in this collection. As he explains in the introduction, Nadler began his training in surgery, but, during a required year of surgical pathology, he finds his true vocation: "I realized a flair for surgical pathology that I had never demonstrated in surgery." (p. xix) However, over the years, he realizes he misses patient contact--these essays, written over 10 years, are forays into an unusual relationship: the pathologist-patient relationship.

Each essay is about a different patient (or other contact) and tissue. One of the most compelling is the first, "Working Through the Images," in which a woman (Hanna Baylan) with metastatic breast cancer seeks Nadler out so that she may view her cancer cells. She arrives in his office unannounced at 6 p.m. and he proceeds to not only show her the slides, but to listen to her. He becomes a witness to her pain, loneliness, sorrow and hope.

"For years I have processed thousands of such cases, determined the manifold forms of disease, but I've never been an intimate part of anyone's illness, never felt the connections of cells to a larger self." (p. 12) During later visits, Baylan cries in his arms and even brings her youngest son in to meet Nadler and view her cells. By this time, Nadler is completely connected to her: "This is heartrending to me, for I have come to love her . . . I can no longer think of Hanna in terms of the cells I see on her slides." (p. 21)

Other chapters highlight fat and bariatric surgery; neurologic disorders such as brain tumor, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and paraplegia; heart disease; sickle cell disease; and palliative care. Each chapter conveys Nadler's visual sophistication and ability to graphically describe cells. For instance, within a fat cell "a large fat globule steamrolls other cell contents flat against the outer membrane until it bulges like a mozzarella." (p. 32) More importantly, Nadler ably extends his cellular acuity to the larger human dimension.

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Thinks . . .

Lodge, David

Last Updated: Feb-07-2002
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Helen Reed, a novelist, newly widowed, moves to the University of Gloucester for a semester to teach creative writing. There she meets Ralph Messenger, professor of cognitive science. Their relationship is set within a web of complex professional and family connections, most of which focus on variations of adultery. Everyone has a secret. Helen learns by reading the novel-in-progress of one of her students that the student had had an affair with her husband.

Ralph, awkwardly involved with a Czech grad student who is trying to blackmail him, is regularly unfaithful to his wife, who is in turn having an affair. Another scientist is addicted to on-line child pornography. Helen and Ralph eventually become lovers, until Ralph is found to have a lump on his liver (which later turns out not to be cancer) and then betrays Helen by reading her private journals. She then returns to London and he remains with his wife.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Nan Shin was an American woman living as a Zen Buddhist nun in France. She is diagnosed with advanced uterine cancer, undergoes surgery and chemotherapy and, by the end of the book, it appears, is dying. Her account does not, however, take the conventional form of the illness narrative; in fact its form might be called anti-narrative, for its focus is not on the story of Shin's illness and dying, but rather on the "every day living" that is at the center of her Zen beliefs.

The book consists of several strands that recur in alternating sections. One strand describes, in minute detail, the course of a single day's devotions and activities in the life of a Zen nun. Another traces the author's travels in the United States with her sensei, an astonishing man whose perspective on American culture is both detached and hilariously insightful.

A third tells of the author's frequent horseback rides through the French countryside, with beautifully focused and precise descriptions of the natural surroundings. Finally, there is the illness, presented matter-of-factly but conveying powerfully the author's (not always wholly successful) efforts to put into practice, in such trying circumstances, all she has learnt as a practitioner of Zen.

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The Healing Muse

St. Andrews, B. A. (Bonnie)

Last Updated: Dec-19-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The first poem in this chapbook ("Sonogram") contains two images of a small, mysterious life (the fetus imagined as a "white boat on whiter water" and as a "tiny orca") in the midst of the coldly technical medical world. This juxtaposition is characteristic of B. A. St. Andrews's poems in this small collection. In most of them, she uses disciplined and sparkling language to explore the interface between modern medicine with its impersonal machinery and the irreducible mystery of life.

Some of the images are simply breathtaking. For example, in "A Dying Art: Room 309," a terminally ill artist lies in bed, surrounded by "plastic bags that hang / like udders dripping pigment / into her." In a love poem called "The Body of Science," the poet confesses, "Each time your voluntary / muscles make contact / my involuntary ones / contract." And at the end of "Alzheimer's," she observes, "She stood at the big bay / window screaming but he never / heard what it was she never said."

The four poems entitled "Your Breast a Unicorn" consider the fate of breasts attacked "at consolation's center" by "one aberrant cell metastasized." These learned, wise, and witty poems are, in my opinion, among the very best of the breast cancer genre.

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I Want to Live!

Jones, Thom

Last Updated: Dec-13-2001
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Mrs. Wilson is a woman diagnosed with an advanced malignancy of the genital tract. Her husband had died from cancer ten years earlier. She is treated with a hysterectomy and oophorectomy along with aggressive chemotherapy by a good doctor who has no bedside manner.

Throughout the story her best friends are always medications to relieve pain: Dilaudid, morphine, Tylenol #3, and methadone. Only her son-in-law really understands her needs and comprehends how to care for her. He is genuine and vital and appears to know as much or more than the doctors in the story.

Mrs. Wilson acknowledges that "to maybe get well you first had to poison yourself within a whisker of death" but discovers that "if you had something to live for, if you loved life, you lived." She dies in a hospital room receiving an IV morphine drip. Before fading into oblivion, she recalls her youth and makes one last attempt at fathoming the meaning of life.

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